Q: Several months ago, I was hired to turn around a department which was not meeting expectations. Although the staff seemed to agree that change was needed, they apparently don't like having an outsider in charge. Many old-school employees are resisting new ideas, and even my direct reports have begun to act disrespectful.
While my boss agrees with the plans for transforming operations, he dislikes confrontation and is unwilling to help me win people over if it means having firm conversations. I am apparently expected to get everyone to embrace these changes on my own. Do I have any hope of succeeding?
A: Like many managers engaged in organizational re-engineering, you have now learned that revising plans, policies, and structures is often the easy part. The more difficult assignment is getting existing employees to view things differently and modify established habits.
Wise leaders understand that ordering people to accept change seldom works. While "firm conversations" may be required with those who are recalcitrant, using an authoritarian approach too quickly will only increase resistance. Given the reaction you describe, this may be the source of your problem with the staff.
At this point, you are undoubtedly feeling great pressure to produce results. Under those circumstances, newly hired managers frequently make the mistake of focusing solely on tasks and overlooking the need to build relationships. As a result, employees begin to view them as aloof and disruptive instead of informed and helpful.
Having established the new direction, you must now guide employees through the process of adapting. Start by doing less talking and more listening, especially with your direct reports. Avoid gripe sessions by asking for input on specific implementation strategies. You may be surprised by how much you learn about potential roadblocks and resource gaps.
To demonstrate your boss' support for the plan, invite him to join you in these discussion sessions. While he may not be much help with tough talks, he could be quite useful in convincing people of the need for a shift in strategy.
How to deal with inequities at work
Q: My co-worker was allowed to take paid time off after using up all her leave days. This seems very unfair, since I try to manage my time well and only use leave when necessary. I expressed my opinion to management, but nothing happened. I would appreciate some advice on how to get over this, because I'm finding it hard to accept.
A: When inequities occur, employees have three choices: take action to fix the problem, acknowledge that life isn't always fair, or go nuts obsessing about it. By raising the issue with management, you have exhausted option one. Now you appear to be stuck on option three, but for your own peace of mind, you really need to let this go.
To reduce your resentment, remind yourself that we often have no idea what's happening in our co-workers' personal lives. This woman may very well have difficult circumstances which management can't discuss with you. If so, the apparent unfairness might actually represent a compassionate exception to the rules.